11-21 Wazzo fires Kent after 5 seasons

Big Tournament

Washington State coach Ernie Kent, right, speaks with forward Isaiah Wade before Wade entered the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Oregon in Pullman, Wash., Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

(AP) — Washington State fired basketball coach Ernie Kent on Thursday after five seasons where he was unable to turnaround the Cougars program and had a significant exodus of players under his watch.

Athletic director Pat Chun announced the decision a day after the Cougars finished an 11-21 season with an 84-51 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament.

“I met with Ernie earlier today and let him know I would be making a change in the leadership of our basketball program,” Chun said in a statement. “We appreciate all that Ernie has done for Washington State but at this time we need a new direction to energize our fan base and return the program to prominence. I am optimistic that our returning students-athletes give us an immediate opportunity to move our program in a positive trajectory.”

Kent was unable to turnaround Washington State in his second stint as a head coach in the Pac-12. The Cougars were 58-98 in Kent’s five seasons in charge in Pullman and were 22-68 in Pac-12 play. Washington State lost its final six games to close this season.

Kent had three years remaining on his contract and will be paid $4.2 million as part of his firing.

Kent was hired in 2014 by former athletic director Bill Moos to replace Ken Bone. Kent and Moos had worked together at Oregon where Kent had led the Ducks to five NCAA tournament appearances and a three Pac-10 regular season or conference tournament titles.

The hope was Kent could replicate that effort with a Washington State program that dipped after Tony Bennett left for Virginia. But the success never materialized and instead apathy took over with low attendance and little care about the success of the program.

Washington State never finished higher than a tie for eighth in Pac-12 play and each of the past two years finished the regular season in 11th place. The Cougars also saw a number of key players transfer during Kent’s tenure.

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